Top 3 Reasons William B. Umstead State Park is my Favorite Forest

Kiosk at the Harrison Ave entrance.

William B. Umstead State Park has been my go-to hiking place for at least the past ten years.   I hike in the forest, or with the forest as a starting place, at least twice per week – sometimes on my own, sometimes as a hike leader for Raleigh Recreational Hikers meetup.

Umstead has a long history:  initially a wild hardwood-forested area inhabited with bison, bobcats and elk, it later became the site for indigenous peoples homes and trade, was part of a land grant for farms in 1774, and  finally in 1934 – through a joint effort of Federal and State agencies – 5,000 acres were purchased to create a public recreation area.  The Civilian Conservation Corp and the Works Progress Administration helped with construction, and the park was open to the public in 1937.

Watching the horses on Reedy Creek greenway.

Spending so much time at Umstead, over such a long stretch of years, makes it hard for me to get back to basic facts about the place – but here goes!

Reason #1:  Location, Location, Location

One of my personal hiking rules is that for any hike,  I want to be on the trail at my destination for at least as much time as it takes me to travel there and back.  I have never had to break that rule when I hike at Umstead.

Located in Wake County, NC between Raleigh, Cary and Durham, this 5,579 acre park is at most a 15 minute drive (or a 5 mile walk) from my house.

It has two entrances: one located the end of Harrison Ave after it crosses the I-40 bridge in Cary (11mi west of Raleigh), and the other off of Glenwood Avenue/Hwy 70 in Raleigh.  The Raleigh entrance is where you will find the park’s Visitor’s Center.

With 22 miles of hiking trails, 13 miles of bridle trails, tent/trailer camping, and primitive camping available, this park is by far the most convenient hiking venue of its magnitude for me and everyone else in the area.  The trails available are good for kids and adults, novices and experienced hikers – -and there is no park entrance fee.  There is even a boat house, and you can go fishing if you need to give your feet a break.

There are also plenty of opportunities to visit Umstead park because it is open every day of the year, except Christmas Day.

Reason #2: Variety of Terrain and Trails of all Lengths
Millstone and plaque along the Company Mill Trail

There are rocky creeks, deeper rivers, lakes and ponds all within the park, and most of the trails cross or go along beside them.  You can also see remnants of the history of the park – chimneys from homesteads, gravestones, CCC handiwork, and remnants of the dam and mill – as you walk.  If you are lucky, you may also see some deer, otter, great blue herons or owls.

None of the trails have really large elevation gains, but there is some variety in the terrain – for instance, the Company Mill trail and the Sycamore Trail are much rockier and have more hills than the Loblolly trail, which is more smooth and low-lying with lots of ferns along the trail.

On the rocks beside the mill stream on Company Mill trail.

Trail length within the park varies: shorter sections like Inspiration Trail are less than half a mile and the longest continuous single trail, Sycamore, is a 7.2 mile loop.   Other longer single trails include the Company Mill loop at 5.8 mi and the Loblolly trail, which is an out-and-back of 5.4 miles.

Hikers with two and four legs enjoy the Loblolly Trail.

It is unusual to have so many trails of moderate length in a single park, especially one that is so easy to get to.

By moderate length, I mean long enough to make it worth your while going out – with kids a 6 mile trail could be a whole day! –  but not so long that even fit adult hikers wouldn’t make it back to the trailhead before dark.

The only other State Park within a 2 hour drive that offers as much variety is Eno River State Park, about an hour’s drive away, in Durham.

Reason #3:  You Can Build-Your-Own Day Trips

The Town of Cary greenways I mentioned earlier are not the only hike-able connections to trails inside Umstead State Park.  Umstead is like the hub of a wheel with each spoke going outside the park to a different hiking venue.

Hikers take pics of carving beside the Sycamore Trail.
  • Umstead to Umstead (Co Mill and Sycamore):  The trailheads for the three longer trails in the park are split between the two entrances, Sycamore on the Raleigh side and Company Mill and Loblolly on the Cary side.  I do occasionally hike internally across the park with a trail combination I call the “Crazy Eight”, both for the shape the trail makes and the approximate length of the hike, which includes the Company Mill trail and part of Sycamore.  The whole hike is 8-9 miles.
  • Umstead to Lake Crabtree Park and Black Creek Greenway:  On the side of the park closest to I40 and Lake Crabtree, hiking the Reedy Creek Multi-Use trail will take you on the bridge over I-40 to the trailhead at Old Reedy Creek road.  (Or, you can simply drive to that trailhead on city streets and start from there.) From there you can go left to the Black Creek Greenway, or right to the hiking and biking trails into Lake Crabtree County Park.  Depending on your starting point and direction you go, this could be anywhere from a 5 mile to a 15 mile hike.

    View from the lakeside trail on Crabtree Lake.
  • Umstead to Schenck Forest, Reedy Creek, NCMA: Taking the Loblolly trail to the edge of the park will bring you to the Reedy Creek Greenway,  From there you can turn right to go back to Umstead, cross the street into NC State’s Schenck Forest, or go left along Reedy Creek road (choosing to step off the greenway to hike Reedy Creek trails if you wish) to get to the trails at North Carolina Museum of Art Park.  Or any combination thereof.  Shortest route would be about 6.5 miles, if you just do Loblolly to Reedy Creek road back into the park.

    Horses graze alongside Reedy Creek Greenway outside of Schenk forest.
  • Umstead to NCMA, House Creek Trail, Meredith College greenway: Once you are at the NCMA, you can hike the paved trails in the museum park all the way to the pedestrian bridge over the highway.  Once you cross you can go to the left on House Creek Greenway which will take you all the way to Crabtree Valley Mall. Or, you could go right to hike on the paved greenway that runs alongside the grounds of Meredith College to the corner of Faircloth and Hillsborough streets in Raleigh.  In both of these cases, this is an out-and-back, so save time and energy for your return trip.   Depending on where you start and where you go, this could be a moderate hike of 5 miles or a very long hike of 12 to 18 miles.
    Pillar at entrance to NCMA pedestrian highway bridge from House Creek Greenway.

     

    Always Something New to Discover

After hiking the same forest for so many years, you would think it would get boring.  Honestly, sometimes, maybe a little.  But mostly I’m not bored – every season, each change of weather,  even which direction you are going on the trail gives you a different perspective that makes you glad you came out.

Even after so many years, I admit that there are Umstead trails that I have not explored because they are less convenient for me.

Going forward,  I promise to make it my goal to seek out those unfamiliar trails, not just for me but so I can share it with you all.

Please leave comments below and let me know what your experiences have been in Umstead State Park,  and which trails are your favorites.  If you have any other questions or comments please also leave them below and I will respond as quickly as I can.

Thanks for stopping by – see you next time!  LJ

 

 

 

Why Right Now is the Best Time to Start Hiking

When I first discovered recreational hiking, I was working at a fulltime tech job, was a single parent of a toddler with few babysitters available, and my closest family was 1500 miles away.  Of necessity, most of my activities (outside of work) included the company of my Mini-Me, and hiking was no exception.

Hiking at Hanging Rock State Park with Peanut!

When she was old enough, we were able to visit a lot of State Parks, and go on unpaved trails with more varied terrain.  She loved the adventure, seeing new things, and being an intrepid explorer with her Mama! Before that, I would carry her in a backpack or push her in a stroller on paved trails.

Hiking Is Ideal for Busy People

Hiking was and still is an ideal activity for me because it is healthy, inexpensive, and something I could do with my child or on my own whenever I had some free time.  Unlike the local softball league, you don’t need to hang around waiting for the rest of the team to show up to get started – you just go when and where you want at your own pace for whatever time you have available.

You don’t need to wait until :

  • Your kids grow up,
  • You can afford special equipment, or
  • You are in amazing physical shape.

Just throw on your tennies, put the kid(s) in some sort of carrying or rolling device and go for it!   If you don’t have kids to wrangle, it’s even easier.

Hike Where You Live

Fortunately, I live in a place where a big beautiful forest is practically outside my front door, so I am able to spend less time in the car and more time on the trails – a big plus when hauling kids.

View down the river at Eno State Park.

But you don’t need a forest – any park with trails or paths will do.  Greenways and long stretches of sidewalk along neighborhood streets will work, too.  I have even walked laps around school running tracks if there was nothing else available.

Do some research and identify places where you could walk at least 3 miles without driving more than 15 minutes.  Be creative!

No time? Be a hiking opportunist:
  • Do you have a lunch hour at work and it’s gorgeous outside?  Ditch the pumps for some trail runners and walk a mile or two before you need to get back.
  • Do you arrive at the after school care pickup an hour before the deadline? Take a walk before picking up the kids while you can go at your own pace with your arms free.
  • Do you sit in rush hour traffic on the way home? Find a trail close to your workplace and hike instead of sitting in stop-and-crawl traffic. You may get home at almost the same time.

Whatever you do, do something.  Identify what you can do now, and do it.  Don’t wait for the “perfect” time:  Identify your opportunities – as small as they may be right now – and take them!

They say the longest journey begins with a single step, and that is literally true for every hike and your hiking journey.  Why not take that first step today?

Tell Me About Your Journey

I love being active hiking on my own, or with like-minded people – and I hope my posts will inspire you to give it a try, too!  Whether or not you have any kids to bring along, or any sort of ongoing health issues, hiking is a great way to simultaneously see the world and improve your own health.

Please leave comments below and let me know what opportunity you took to start hiking, and how it went for you.  If you have any other questions or comments please also leave them below and I will respond as quickly as I can.

I have been hiking for fun regularly for almost 20 years now, and have been leading hikes in a local hiking group since 2009, in local and regional parks.  I also take hiking trips all over the world, and will use my blog to share what I find out there – which might give you some ideas about where you could visit in your own travels.   For more about me, please see my About page:  http://idratherwalk.com/welcome-to-id-rather-walk/

Thanks for stopping by – see you next time!  LJ